Gurindam 12 Fasal 5

Maqam at Masjid Bahagian Kuching

by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873)


This is the gurindam of the fifth issue:

If you wish to know the people of high birth,
in manners and speech are shown their worth.

To know the people of happiness,
avoid involvement in the meaningless.

To know the man of high distinction,
look upon his deeds and actions.

If you wish to know the people of wisdom
ask and learn without feeling boredom.

If those with intellect you would know
store provisions now in this life below.

If men of character you would recognize
among the masses observe how they fraternize.


Ini gurindam pasal yang kelima:

Jika hendak mengenal orang berbangsa,
lihat kepada budi dan bahasa.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang berbahagia,
sangat memeliharakan yang sia-sia.

Jika hendak mengenal orang mulia,
lihatlah kepada kelakuan dia.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang berilmu,
bertanya dan belajar tiadalah jemu.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang berakal,
di dalam dunia mengambil bekal.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang baik perangai,
lihat pada ketika bercampur dengan orang ramai.


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Raja_Ali_HajiGurindam Dua Belas is a 19th century Malay poem written in rhyming couplets with free meter. It has 12 parts, each dealing with a different pasal, or issue. It was composed by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873), an intellectual of the Riau-Lingga court best known for his history Tuhfat al-Nafis (the Precious Gift). I’ll be posting my translations pasal by pasal.

Gurindam of the First Issue

Gurindam of the Second Issue

Gurindam of the Third Issue

Gurindam of the Fourth Issue

Daun Inai

Henna'd fingers at the henna tree

Daun inai banyak getahnya,
Ambil segenggam pewarna kuku,
Wahai adik abang bertanya,
Apa obat penawar rindu.

Thick with sap run the henna’s leaves
Take some in hand your nails for dying
O young maiden, your lover asks you
What salve is there to heal longing?


Gadis ditegus lalu dikenyit
Baik perangai pandang tak jemu
Bagai kapur bertemu kunyit
Merah inai mencari kuku

A glance at the maiden leads to a wink
Moves so fine eyes can’t take their fill
Just like limestone chanced upon turmeric
Or the red of the henna seeking the nail



Photo: Lawsonia inermis, the Henna Tree, Pokok Inai in Malay.

Traditional pantuns courtesy of Malay Civilization.

Translations mine.

Gurindam not dead: Gadis Jolobu

Here I thought I was laboring in obscurity translating 19th century Malay teaching-poems, when behold, Gurindams get a name-check on the radio. Check this out:

Gadis Jolobu
Produced by DJ Fuzz
Lyrics by Waris & Dato Hattan


Ko jolobak ko jolbu
Tuai padi tigo tangkai
Kalau kono komat jolobu
Tak mati badan menghasai
Gurindam dulu dulu jangan ponah dipotikai
Tak tahu tanyo dulu jangan goma memanadai mandai

On the way to Jelebu
To reap three-stalked rice [1]
If the Jelebu mojo hits you
won’t die but you’re bound to suffer
Don’t you ever disrespect the old Gurindams [2]
Better ask somebody, don’t act like you know

Verse 1:

Kisah eh bermulo,mulut ughang kampong
Kisah ramai gadis cantik kek jolobu berkampung
Ughang luar datang luar nak cari’an joki
Lain pulak jadi eh terpikek nak buek bini
Tapi silap,kono komat sampai tinggalkan keluargo
Kopit bawah kotiak bini tanggungjawab lupo
Omak ayah rindu tapi dio buek bodoh
Dah takdo monyosa monangih dopan kubur aiii

The story starts from the mouths of villagers
The story of all the gorgeous women of Jelebu village
An outsider came looking for work
Turned out different: got hooked, took a wife
Her mojo got him, abandoned his folks
Stuck under his woman’s armpit, responsibilities forgotten
His mom and dad longed for him but he played dumb
Now they’re gone: he cries at their grave in regret


Verse 2:

Ughang luar salah tafsir koba gadih kito bahayo
Lopeh coghai semuo ghoto jadi milik dio
Jangan salah anggap,napo lobihkan pompuan
Sobab laki boleh hidup kalau campak dlm hutan
Zaman dah boghubah, adat di tolan zaman
Dah takdo mewaghisi coghito bertauladan
Apotah laie, mengaku ughang nogori
Bilo tanyo suku mano nak jawab pun tak ghoti

Poie tanyo omak,poie tanyo uwan
Kok takdo kosompatan buleh tanyo kawan kawan
Aktiviti bergurindam tolah lonyap dilupokan
“sebagai suatu warisan”

Outsiders get confused, saying our women are dangerous
Divorce one and your assets are hers [3]
Don’t misunderstand why our women get the upper hand
Throw a Nine Clan man in the jungle and he can still get by
Times have changed, culture swallowed by the times
No one left to inherit the teaching-tales
What more when someone claims to be from Nine Clans
Ask him which clan: he can’t begin to answer.

Go ask your momma, go ask your grampa too
If that doesn’t work well then your friends will have to do
Spinning Gurindams is an art form long forgot
As a part of our heritage


Verse 3:

Wak wak makan padi si lomang dalam buluh
Kok dah dapek yg dicari jgn terlansung semayang subuh
Ayam berkokok umah ponghulu itu tando haghi nak siang
Kok dah dapek oghang jolobu tak sabar nunggu malam ko siang

Waterhens eat field-rice, bamboo’s filled with lemang [4]
If you get what you’re after, don’t oversleep the dawn prayer. [5]
The headman’s roosters crow, that’s the sign the day dawns
Night or day you cannot wait once you get a Jelebu woman.

Verse 2 repeats.



1. Rice is harvested when it has 5-10 stalks, or tillers. Harvesting 3-tillered rice is suggestive of misfortune.
2. Here at Bin Gregory Productions, we are all about respecting the old Gurindams. See the Gurindam 12 of Raja Ali Haji Pasal One, Two, Three and Four.
3. The flow is in the thick regional dialect of Negeri Sembilan, a state settled by Minangkabau people who practiced some elements of matriarchal inheritance. The state has nine clan or tribal districts, from whence the name in the following line above.
4. For more on lemang, see here and here. The verse may be referring to the siamang, a type of gibbon, in which case “gibbon’s in the bamboo”.
5. Surely I don’t have to spell it out for you.

Batang jati kangkung

Kangkung, Ipomea aquatica, is a crawling vegetable with hollow stems, allowing it to float on the water, from whence it gets the name water spinach. There’s no relation – in fact it is in the Convulvulaceae or morning glory family. It is a mainstay of kampung cuisine, growing freely in the canals and marshy places. Although peasant food, it has its etiquette: the stems should be cut such that each stem has a leaf, and the leaf should be uncut. The orang tua on my wife’s side will not eat kangkung that has been chopped indiscriminately. Its dignified lowliness, its crawling, floating wayside abundance, allows it to represent humility when evoked in the following pantun.

Batang jati kangkung
Tumbuh rapat di dalam taman
Suka dipuji gemar disanjung
Bukanlah sifat orang budiman

“Morning glory of the water  /
Growing thickly in the garden.  
Love of praise and pride in honors  /
Is not the way of the gentleman.”


Malay pantun courtesy of UKM Malay Civilization Database

English translation mine.

Three Pipers: Lada, Sirih, Kaduk

Black pepper is the quintessential spice of the Spice Route, the ancient trade routes across the Indian Ocean that have brought merchants and travelers to the Nusantara since antiquity. Pepper was once as valuable as gold, and even now, it is the world’s most traded spice. Piper nigrum is well suited to cultivation in Sarawak: pepper represents roughly 5% of total agricultural exports, and virtually all of it comes from Sarawak. Sarawak produces more than 90% of the world’s supply of white pepper. White pepper, like red and green peppercorns, comes from the same plant as the common black corns. The difference is in the processing: with white pepper the peppercorns are submerged in running water for a period of time. That bleaches the color and gives white pepper it’s milder flavor.

Young peppercorns a-dangling

Anak rekan pergi ka pantay
Masak ikan berkua lada
Chukop makan chukop pakay
Mau di simpan tidak kan ada

Down at the beach, a band of youths
In black pepper sauce they fry their fish.
From hand to mouth, enough to get by.
Enough to save?  A distant wish!

Black pepper is used in Malaysian cooking, as the pantun suggests, but it isn’t a particularly distinctive ingredient. (I’ve often wondered how KFC could win over Malaysians so thoroughly with their 11 herbs and spices, when any Malay woman would need 11 herbs and spices before they even considered what to cook.) The fresh green peppercorns are a lot more exciting. At our house, we like to grind them up for sambal with fermented durian paste and anchovies.

green black pepper
Turmeric root, green peppercorns, terung pipit

Black pepper isn’t the most important Piper around either. A close relative of black pepper is Sirih, the betel-leaf, Piper betel. Chewing the leaf together with lime and the nut of the Areca palm yields a mild buzz while quelling the appetite and staining the teeth red. It is among the oldest shared cultural practices across South and Southeast Asia, with evidence of it’s use going back thousands of years.  Chewing betel is still very popular in Sri Lanka and India, where it is called paan. Paanwallas sell chews by the side of the road, with extras like honey, tobacco and spices. Like hot dog vendors! Ask for one with everything.

Sirih, the betel leaf
Sirih, the betel leaf

Burung jentayu terbang beriring Mati dipanah gugur ke lumpur Sirihku layu pinangku kering Sudikah dimamah barang sekapur?

Together take flight a flock of Jentayu
Felled by an arrow one drops from the sky
Would you care to sit for a chew
Though my sirih has wilted, my betelnut dried?

In Malaysia, the habit is waning. It’s considered country, unsophisticated. Old grandmothers will still chew surreptitiously, but men have turned to cigarettes instead – a very bad trade, constant spitting and tooth decay notwithstanding.  Still, even now, the betel leaf has some cultural cachet. Sirih appears in pantuns, proverbs, and in the classic phrase “sekapur sirih”, used as a literary preface or for opening remarks. Exchanges of wedding gifts may be sent on platters of betel-leaf, or for the very old fashioned, a quantity of leaves may be stipulated in the gift exchange. I’ll know the habit is gone for good in Kuching when my neighborhood grocery store stops stocking them. Folded bundles tied with vines: 50 sen a packet!

Sirih folded and tied for sale

Sirih and pepper are climbing vines, but there is another Piper that just sits around: Kadok, or Sirih Duduk, Piper sarmentosum. It makes a lovely groundcover, a tasty raw vegetable, and the name of the archetypal village idiot, Pak Kaduk.

Sirih duduk, just sitting around.

Hinggap merpati di dahan senduduk
Gugur pinang ditiup badai
Jangan seperti malang Pak kaduk
Ayam menang kampung tergadai

A pigeon rests on a bough of senduduk[1]
Down fall areca-nuts blown by the wind
Don’t be a fool like old Uncle Kaduk
Losing the village a hen for to win

Kaduk is eaten as ulam, the Malay answer to the vegetable platter. Instead of ranch dressing, the kaduk – already hot and bitter – is dipped in sambal and eaten with rice. Since it is a perennial shrub, there are always leaves ready to eat. If the kitchen is empty, you can step outside and graze.

Kijang menghantuk di rumpun buluh
Makan kaduk di dalam padi
Tuntut ilmu bersungguh-sungguh
Kerana hidup tunangnya mati

Upon grazing the kaduk from fields of paddy
The drowsy deer stands amidst the bamboo
Surely the bride of this life is death
So seek ye knowledge in all that you do

Makan berulam si daun kaduk
Sambal belacan asam kelubi
Dulu nyaring bunyi beduk
Kini azan lantang di TV

Eating a dish of raw leaves of kaduk
with shrimp paste chili sauce doused with kelubi
Where once rang out the sound of the beduk [1,2]
Now the azan is played on the TV

flowers of the kadok

All pantuns are sourced from the Malay Civilization project of the National University of Malaysia.
Translations mine.

Gurindam 12 Fasal 4

The 12 Gurindam of Raja Ali Haji


This is the Gurindam of the fourth issue:

Ini gurindam pasal yang keempat:

The heart over the body rules all;
if it oppresses, every part falls.

Hati kerajaan di dalam tubuh,
jikalau zalim segala anggota pun roboh.

Whenever jealousy has been sown,
shoot forth a multitude of arrows.

Apabila dengki sudah bertanah,
datanglah daripadanya beberapa anak panah.

In cursing and praising pause first to think;
it is there that many sink.

Mengumpat dan memuji hendaklah pikir,
di situlah banyak orang yang tergelincir.

When in anger, act not upon it;
that is how to lose your wits.

Pekerjaan marah jangan dibela,
nanti hilang akal di kepala.

The smallest lie or abuse of trust
is like a mouth dripping of pus.

Jika sedikitpun berbuat bohong,
boleh diumpamakan mulutnya itu pekong.

It is a sign of a man most cursed
who considers not his honor first.

Tanda orang yang amat celaka,
aib dirinya tiada ia sangka.

To miserliness do not give leave;
it is stronger than a pack of thieves.

Bakhil jangan diberi singgah,
itupun perampok yang amat gagah.

Whosoever has reached to greatness
should behave in a way free of coarseness.

Barang siapa yang sudah besar,
janganlah kelakuannya membuat kasar.

Those who love to speak filth
have a spittoon and not a mouth.

Barang siapa perkataan kotor,
mulutnya itu umpama ketur.

Yet our own faults we cannot know
if not to us by others shown.

Di mana tahu salah diri,
jika tidak orang lain yang berperi.


Raja_Ali_HajiGurindam Dua Belas is a 19th century Malay poem written in rhyming couplets with free meter. It has 12 parts, each dealing with a different pasal, or issue. It was composed by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873), an intellectual of the Riau-Lingga court best known for his history Tuhfat al-Nafis (the Precious Gift). I’ll be posting my translations pasal by pasal.

Gurindam of the First Issue

Gurindam of the Second Issue

Gurindam of the Third Issue

Gurindam 12 Fasal 3

The 12 Gurindam of Raja Ali Haji

This is the gurindam of the third issue:

Ini gurindam pasal yang ketiga:

When we guard the eyes,
Idle fantasy is minimized.

Apabila terpelihara mata,
sedikitlah cita-cita.

When we guard the ears,
Evil gossip cannot come near.

Apabila terpelihara kuping,
khabar yang jahat tiadalah damping.

When we guard our tongues
We ensure good outcomes.

Apabila terpelihara lidah,
nescaya dapat daripadanya faedah.

Guard your hands carefully
from sins both light and heavy.

Bersungguh-sungguh engkau memeliharakan tangan,
daripada segala berat dan ringan.

When the belly is too full
What it produces is distasteful.

Apabila perut terlalu penuh,
keluarlah fi’il yang tiada senonoh.

Take heed of the middle part,
it is there that many men lose heart.

Anggota tengah hendaklah ingat,
di situlah banyak orang yang hilang semangat.

Guard well the feet
from walking the pathway to defeat.

Hendaklah peliharakan kaki,
daripada berjalan yang membawa rugi.



Raja_Ali_HajiGurindam Dua Belas is a 19th century Malay poem written in rhyming couplets with free meter. It has 12 parts, each dealing with a different pasal, or issue. It was composed by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873), an intellectual of the Riau-Lingga court best known for his history Tuhfat al-Nafis (the Precious Gift).  I’ll be posting my translations pasal by pasal.

Gurindam of the First Issue

Gurindam of the Second Issue

Gurindam 12 Fasal 2

The 12 Gurindam of Raja Ali Haji

This is the gurindam of the second issue.

Whosoever grasps what follows here
Must know the true meaning of fear.

Whosoever neglects the prayer
Is like a home without a pillar.

Whosoever neglects the fast
Has lost in both this life and last.

Whosoever neglects zakat
Earns from their wealth no barakat.

Whosoever turns from pilgrimage
Has not fulfilled what he has pledged.

Ini gurindam pasal yang kedua

Barang siapa mengenal yang tersebut,
tahulah ia makna takut.

Barang siapa meninggalkan sembahyang,
seperti rumah tiada bertiang.

Barang siapa meninggalkan puasa,
tidaklah mendapat dua temasya.

Barang siapa meninggalkan zakat,
tiadalah hartanya beroleh berkat.

Barang siapa meninggalkan haji,
tiadalah ia menyempurnakan janji.


Gurindam of the First Issue